SERMON PREACHED AT THE OPENING SERVICE OF THE SYNOD OF THE DIOCESE OF SAPELE ON THURSDAY, 30TH JULY, 2015
THEME: “JACOB I LOVE, BUT ESAU I HATE: UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT OF THE THEME AND POSSIBLE INTERPRETATIONS”
TEXT: Romans 9:13 and Deuteronomy 10:15.
Welcome all Delegates to the Synod and appreciate the Bishop: The Rt Rev Blessing Erifeta for the invitation to minister at the Synod. Pray God’s blessings into his life and upon the Diocese as a whole.
The theme of your Synod is a subject of an age long question on the lips of many both Christians and non Christians alike as to whether or not God is partial in the ways he deals with people in the exercise of his divine benevolence and judgement. I want to commend the courage of your Bishop for the choice of the theme. It is my prayer that after this Synod, having listened to the words of God on this theme from the Sermons, Bible Studies and the Bishop’s Charge, we will see God more clearly with a resolve to serve him as the unquestionable God who does things the best ways he chooses to manifest his glory on earth. In fact this theme reminds me of the popular song we often sing during our worship: “Unquestionable, you are the Lord, unquestionable…”However, whether or not we believe and accept the wordings of that song is another question.
By the grace of God, we shall be looking at this theme from four different angles today and in the next three days under the following sub themes: First, Understanding the Context of the Theme and Possible Interpretations; second, Divine Preferment as God’s Prerogative; third, the Unquestionable Preferment must not be taken for Granted; and fourth, When Preferred, we must work out our Salvation... Certainly, by the time we come to the end of the Synod, God’s name will be mightily praised; and all the confusions in our hearts concerning this subject would have been removed. Today, we shall look at, “Understanding the Context of the Theme and Possible Interpretations.”
God at different times in history has been found with the practice of choice-making in such a way that no other person but He alone can explain. For example, God speaks of His love for the choice of the Israelites as revealed in Deuteronomy 10:15, “The LORD delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day.” The reason for his choice to love a stiff-necked nation goes beyond human reasoning. God’s preferment is based on His eternal justice which He alone can explain. He is the same God who raises up one and pulls down another (Psalm 75:6). He is God who knows what is best at the right time. It must however be said that the chosen must not see the non-chosen as worthless or irrelevant.
“Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated: The Unquestionable Divine Preferment.” Again as noted earlier, from the theme of this Synod, it will appear as if God is partial; and the way the text reads as if God has destined Jacob to be blessed and Esau to be doomed. As portrayed in 1 John 4:7-8, God is love. Listen to what John says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” How can this God hate? Therefore, crediting God with the hate language will not also be a true reflection of Paul’s thought.
In some quarter, from the context of Romans 9:13 it is believed that this passage is actually talking about the Doctrine of Election and Predestination. That is to say, God has already chosen those to be saved and those who will be lost; and therefore there is nothing anybody can do about it. However, such a conclusion will be far from speaking the truth in view of the context of Paul’s argument here.
In other to resolve the difficulties surrounding this text, there have been various opinions and interpretations on whether or not Jacob and Esau relate to individuals or nations. First, there is the school of thought that believes the use of Jacob and Esau here refers to individuals, no more no less. There is no doubt that Jacob did end up being the progenitor of the Israelites; and Esau gave birth to the nation of the Edomites. Nevertheless, it has been argued that the text in its plain sense here only refers to individual personalities; and these were Jacob and Esau who were at a time in the womb of their mother, Rebecca. It is also to be noted that nations are made up of individuals. So the interpretation of this text will still have implications for individuals in the long run.
In this first school of thought, Paul here was reminding the nation of Israel (the Jews) how God had chosen them as a channel through which his eternal purpose of saving mankind will become realised through Christ (cf. Gen. 12:1–3; Rom. 9:4–5). However, the fact that the nation of Israel was chosen by God does not mean every Israelite is destined or elected to be saved (9:6). The point being made here is that the fact that the Messiah came through the Jewish nation did not mean that every Jew or Israelite would be saved.
Individual salvation has never been and will never be based on a person’s nationality. Therefore, while nations might be implied, as they bear directly on the Jews or Israelites and the Edomites, Paul’s argument had much to do with the individual personalities of both Jacob and Esau; and conversely individuals among the Israelites and Edomites.
Another point that must be made here has to do with the word, “hate.” As noted earlier, the hate language could not have been credited to God since he is love. In other not to credit God with the hate language, scholars have tried to examine the words used for “hate” in Malachi 1:2-3 and “love less” in Genesis 29:30 as coming from the same Hebrew word. It therefore follows to say that in Genesis 29:30 Jacob ‘loved Rachel more than Leah’ cannot mean ‘Leah was hated by Jacob.’ Certainly, when considering the language of “hate” involved in this text there is no denial of the fact that this passage is a very difficult one.
On the other hand, there is the second school of thought that says, by reading this passage carefully; it becomes clearer that the subject is not about individuals, but nations. Taking this further, it is believed that Paul was talking about the role the nation of Israel had played in God’s desire to bring salvation to mankind. It is believed that Paul was quoting from Malachi 1:2-3, in which the context of the usage of the word Jacob refers to the nation of Israel and the word Esau, depicts the nation of Edomites.
This interpretation makes sense when Romans 9, 10, and 11 are interpreted together. Interpreting this passage from nationalistic point of view, it is said that while two individuals have been mentioned in the persons of Jacob and Esau, the intention here within the argument of Paul goes beyond these two personalities, rather he was focusing on the two races that emerged from them ultimately, namely, the Israelites or Jews; and the Edomites or Gentiles.
While we have attempted to look at the two possible lines of interpretations to understand the thought of Paul as contained in the theme for this Synod, it will be safe to conclude that both interpretations can be safely accommodated for our benefits at this Synod. While it is true that two individuals were involved in this passage, the implications go beyond them to the nations which eventually emerged from them. While at the face value, it sounded as if Jacob and all his descendants enjoyed the love of God, it will show that not all keyed into this divine love as many rejected the love of God by not accepting the Messiah that was sent for their salvation.
Thus from John 1 we can see the testimony testimony out how the Jews rejected Jesus, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:10-11). This shall be treated more on Saturday when looking at why we must not take the grace of God for granted.
In a similar way, it would seem as if Esau was permanently hated by God, but within the context of Paul’s argument, it will be seen later that the love of God was also extended to cover all Gentiles, among whom were the Edomites, the descents of Esau. In a way, just as Esau enjoyed a measure of blessings, though he lost his birthright and the blessings of a first child from Isaac, yet he was prosperous and the grace of salvation was also extended to his descendants who embraced the gift of salvation offered by God in Christ.
Beloved brothers and sisters, as we come together at this Synod, God wants us to reflect on our Christian journey. Yes according to theme of this Synod, Jacob was loved by God and Esau hated. But not all who claim to be children of Jacob, the Jews or Israelites in their various generations were ultimately saved. Many have rejected this love of God and have missed the gift of salvation. Though Esau seemed to have been hated by God, but today, many of his offerings, the Gentiles including you and me have today become inheritors of the grace of God and have been saved from eternal damnation.
Brother and sister, nobody is born as a Christian. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. But through Jesus Christ, the free gift of life has been made available to us. God has once again demonstrated his love to us in Christ (Romans 5:8). It is the wish of God to save all. It is not only enough for you to pride yourself in being an Anglican by the facts that you were born by Anglican parents, or you have been baptised or confirmed in the Church.
Have you really encountered Christ? God has not destined anybody to be doomed. His offer of salvation is for whoever will come to him. Yes, God hated sins, and wants sinner to come to him for salvation since there is no peace for the wicked (Isaiah 48:22). As we reflect on the theme of the Synod this year, let us key in into God’s divine plans by calling upon him for our salvation. Salvation is a personal matter. Settle it with God. God has not destined anybody to perish.
Salvation has been made available to all. It is only you who can reject God’s offer of salvation. If you are already saved, ask for the grace to remain in the faith. If you are yet to be saved, call on him today. He will save you from your sins; and your life will never remain the same.